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Too Much, Too Early: Hidden Risks of Early Sports Specialization

June 30, 2005 -- In the face of an epidemic of overuse injuries among young athletes, AdvantEdge Sports Performance is warning parents about the hidden risks of early sports specialization, and giving tips on how they can prevent this problem.

 “  Too often, these growing young athletes are trained only in a single sport, focusing on specific skills and movement patterns while neglecting other...  
Many parents fail to recognize that intensive sport-specific training puts their child at a greater risk of injury. Today, more athletes are specializing in one sport at an early age. While this may increase their early skill levels, it also means they are at a greater risk of injury.

Dr. Brendan Murray, a Santa Monica physician who has worked with many elite athletes and served US teams internationally, sees the problem. "Too often, these growing young athletes are trained only in a single sport, focusing on specific skills and movement patterns while neglecting others. Doing one sport creates imbalances and in some cases inhibits development of overall athletic ability. The risk of overuse injuries is far more prevalent than most parents think," Murray says.

A recent study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found children ages 5 through 13 had the highest sports related injury rate of any age group, with 59.3 injuries per 1,000 people. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that approximately 50 percent of overuse injuries sustained by youth athletes could be prevented if more emphasis was placed on the development of fundamental and fitness skills.

"Sport specific training is clearly helpful in teaching skills to young athletes, but the constant repetition of a single activity or movement is simply not good for long term development of athletes. Parents need to be aware of these risks and know that they can be avoided" said Ken Vick, Sports Performance Director at AdvantEdge’s Southbay location.

School
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 and club coaches teach sports-specific skills such as serving a volleyball, kicking a soccer
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 ball or making a tackle. Instead, we teach the fundamental movement skills, such as running and jumping, that create a foundation for all athletes,'' continues Vick. ”Our performance coaches focus on teaching skills that improve all around athleticism and help prevent injury. We understand the special needs of youth athletes, the sports science of what works, and why.''

Some tips parents can follow to avoid the common pitfall of overuse injuries in youth sports:

1. Don’t practice a single sport year round. Research has shown a young athlete is better served with periods of competition and practice mixed with periods of other activities until the late teens.

2. Play a variety of sports to expose young athletes to a variety of movement skills. This will give them a wider array of movement skills when learning sport specific skills later. These foundational skills should include;
a. running and jumping
b. twisting rolling, balancing
c. hand-eye – foot-eye coordination

3. Keep a close eye on the young athlete’s physical state. If you see early aches and pains starting, or nagging injuries that won’t go away, see a sports medicine professional early.

4. Instead of private skill training throughout the year, consider working in a quality sports performance program to build the physical capacity to learn
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 new skills later.

AdavntEdge is the sports performance training service of Integrated Performance Systems of El Segundo, CA. They offer performance enhancement and injury prevention programs appropriate for all levels of sport. The combined experience of professionals in strength & conditioning, sport psychology, speed development and sports nutrition provide safe and effective training programs for world class Olympians, professionals and amateur youth athletes.


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